In this podcast I discuss the often misinterpreted Ashtanga saying: “Do your practice and all is coming”. I go into detail about the different important meanings of Abhyasa, the Sanskrit word for practice, and probe into how to derive optimal physical and spiritual benefits from your daily efforts.
TOPICS I DISCUSS INCLUDE:
*deliberate practice vs how just practicing a lot is not effective in developing skills or mastery.
*10 years as a possible minimum number of years to become fully established in an effective practice.
*how natural ability (talent or physical ability) doesn’t account for success in practice or in yoga
*the most important skill that can be taught by the teacher is HOW to practice, how to set manageable and appropriate goals, to identify steps in a progression, and to monitor the success or otherwise of the practice strategies.
*How at home practice is most successful if the teacher gives specific instructions about what needs to be worked on, how to do it, and what the results should be like.
*How systematic approaches yield better results than free practice.
*to the question “what to practice?” One answer is to repeat a difficult passage many times until mastery is achieved. This means learning to work on a series in shorter fragments (called fragmenting or chunking) rather than just doing an entire series all the way through with 5 breaths in each pose everyday.
*Concept of metacognition. The quality of practice can be gauged by the level of self regulation and ‘metacognition’. Self awareness includes not only technical knowledge of the poses but also of issues related to the learning itself, such as concentration, planning, monitoring, and evaluation. Self monitoring includes reflecting on what you are doing, how you’re doing it, and having the ingenuity to consider alternative approaches.
*Intensity in practice is related to the student’s personal interest in a particular pose or aspect of practice. Self initiative as a main driver of one’s practice is essential for motivation and enthusiasm. You determine what to focus on based on your interests and tastes; this is at least as important as following a prescribed syllabus or strictly following external rules because ‘that’s the way it's done’.
*Discussion of the following spiritual meanings of the word practice in yoga:
1) Effort of the mind to remain in its unmodified condition of purity, or
2) Inculcation of a truth conveyed in the sacred writings by means of repeating the same word or the same passage.
*I cite two little exchanges between teacher and student that come from sacred texts (see below) and discuss possible connections between your daily practice and the spiritual teachings found in the texts.
From the Dakshinamurti Stotra
STUDENT: How can Atman, the Self, be the All-knower and All-doer?
TEACHER: All the things which we perceive exist here within (the Self-Paramatman, the Highest Self). Within is the whole of this universe. By Maya it appears as external, like one’s own body in a mirror. It is certain that the existence of objects seen in our dreams are not independent from us, but are part of us. What difference is there in the objects of the waking consciousness, impermanent and insentient as they always are? In dreams, things appear by the light of one’s own self. There is then indeed no other source of light that makes a dream. The wise conclude that the case is just the same with this visible world, all these physical forms that we perceive in the waking state come from the light of the Self.
From the Brihadaryanyka Upanishad
KING JANAKA: What serves the light for man?
SAGE YAGNAVALKYA: The light of the sun your Majesty. For by the light of the sun man sits, goes out, does his work, and returns home.
KING JANAKA: True, great Sage, but when the sun has set, what then serves as his light?
SAGE YAGNAVALKYA: The moon is then his light
KING JANAKA: But when the sun has set and the moon has set, then what serves as his light?
SAGE YAGNAVALKYA: The fire is then his light
KING JANAKA: But when the sun has set, the moon has set, and the fire goes out, then what serves as his light?
SAGE YAGNAVALKYA: Sound is then his light, for with sound alone as his light man sits, goes out, does his work, and returns home. Even though he cannot see his own hand, yet when he hears a sound he moves towards it.
KING JANAKA: True but when the sun has set, the moon has set, the fire goes out, and no sound is heard, then what serves as his light?
SAGE YAGNAVALKYA: The Self is his light, for by the light of the Self, man sits, goes out, does his work, and when his work is done, rests.